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Milford Sound, NZ

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Pampered or Punked? Adventures in Spa Land

    Pampered or Punked? 
   Adventures in Spa Land

If you’re looking for unusual spa treatments, you can have a snake massage in Israel, a beer bath in the Czech Republic or a chocolate facial in Pennsylvania (according to this article: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2012/feb/03/best-weird-spa-treatments ).

Or, if you’re in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, you can visit Villa Donna Retreat.

Let’s start with what Villa Donna is not: it’s not a villa Under the Tuscan Sun. It’s not a resort. It’s not what one might typically associate with a spa. 
Villa Donna Retreat, Tauriko, Bay of Plenty


Villa Donna consists of a single-story brick house in Tauriko. Just follow the sign set against a bicycle and head for the carport to get inside.



My friends Donna (no connection with Villa Donna), Paula and I have driven here via the Mount and Tauranga for a day of pampering, combined with a cooking class. I’d encouraged my fellow running mates to spend $60 for a voucher on deal website Treat Me. http://treatme.co.nz/. The retreat was billed as a ‘healing, relaxing, enlightening and fun day…’ with ‘2-3 hours in the kitchen making and sampling ridiculously tasty food that’s extremely good for you…’

Two other women are waiting when we arrive. We’ll have at least five hours from start to finish. We spend 45 minutes in the kitchen. We make no food. Instead, we listen to owner Donna Bodell tell us 80 percent of diseases are caused by eating acid-forming foods such as meat, sugar and dairy which promote inflammation. She says eating alkaline foods – vegetables, fruits, seeds, beans, nuts… can stop or reverse these conditions.

Wasn’t the acid-alkaline diet 2013’s fad? Victoria Beckham tweeted about the alkaline diet last year. http://www.webmd.com/diet/alkaline-diets 

Is it possible to ‘alkalise’ our bodies? Articles in mainstream media say no. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/putting-the-ph-diet-to-the-acid-test-20110707-1h43w.html

I look for a ‘bullshit’ buzzer. Finding none, I open my mouth not to object, but to spoon in a concoction of purple oats, berries, seeds, almond milk and black currant powder. It’s delicious. Though, at $80 for 500 grams, I doubt I’ll buy any currant powder soon.


Donna B. asks if it’s okay if her dogs join us in the kitchen. We say sure. Two fluffy Pomeranian-style pooches enter from the pantry. One of them jumps up beside me on the couch and starts clawing at Paula, as if to say, ‘Love me, pet me now…’

Donna B. talks about exercise and says running will eventually ruin joints. “Those marathoners are crazy. I always ask if they’re running to something, or running from something,” she says.

My friend, Donna, replies, “Actually, the three of us are in a running club. We all run marathons.” 

Donna B. continues, undeterred: “If a client wants a running plan, I send her to a friend up the road. I won’t do it.”

A smirk tugs the corners of my mouth, which is busy chewing a piece of wheat-free almond and raisin bread, made by an artisan baker at the Mount. It’s scrummy, and I want another piece.

We move from running to the politics of sugar. Donna expounds on Donald Rumsfeld’s role in promoting artificial sugars. I wonder, ‘wasn’t Rumsfeld Defense Secretary?’ and then, ‘Why the hell are we getting a lecture about American politics?’ That part’s still unclear, but you can read more about the Rumsfeld controversy here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robbie-gennet/donald-rumsfeld-and-the-s_b_805581.html


Donna delivers a five-minute rhapsody about food steamers. She then serves steamed pumpkin and broccoli mixed with a chick pea curry she squeezes from a packet. “I bought these two for five dollars,” she says.

I duck into a 1970’s or 80’s-style bathroom to use the toilet. Cobwebs dangle from the ceiling and a slightly damp bath-sized towel hangs from a rod by the sink. Am I meant to use this to dry my hands? I wipe them on my jeans instead.

For the next part of our pampering day, we can choose an hour sauna and spa or personal training session. We’ve opted for the former, since we crazy runners get plenty of exercise whilst ruining our joints.

We change into swimsuits in a bedroom whose lavender-colored walls feature drips and dribbles of dried paint. It’s as if a toddler flung buckets around to see what would happen. The room between the sauna and spa is carpeted in a thick shag that reminds me of the 80’s - all big hair and shoulder pads.


We try the sauna first. The temperature’s hot, yet comfortable enough to sit for 15 minutes. Two sprays of orchids adorn the wooden seats. I pick one up and feel it. Fabric.

Villa Donna Spa

Next, we step into the spa pool, where a brown film clings just beneath whirling white bubbles. I snap a picture as we ponder the gunk’s origin. “Maybe they don’t use chemicals, and it’s natural, like what washes up from the sea?” asks Paula, with hope in her voice.

My friends are good sports

Our pampering day ends with a 45-minute massage. Donna B. and her husband,  Gordon, take turns massaging the five of us. The Villa Donna website mentions the couple has studied at massage therapy schools, but doesn’t clarify whether either of them earned a diploma or certificate. 

“Donna has 8 years experience in massage, having studied at the New Zealand College of Massage for a diploma in therapeutic massage.”

“Gordon studied at the New Zealand School of Massage Therapy, specialising in Sports and Relaxation Massage.”

My friends are wary of man massage. I’ve been kneaded by at least a dozen therapists, about a quarter of whom were men. I volunteer for Gordon.

His business card says, ‘Body Wizard.’ Gordon asks me if I have any trouble spots. I mention a dodgy shoulder and say my legs are tight, thanks to running.

“Oh, I hate running,” says Gordon.

“It’s great,” I insist. “I got out on the beach before sunrise this morning at low tide and it was beautiful.”

“Well, joy to the fucking world,” says Gordon.

Do they teach that at massage school? Instruct your client to lay face down with her head in the cradle and say ‘fuck.’ A lot.

Gordon searches the cause of my sore shoulder, first around my neck, then, in my forearm. “Bingo,” he says. Then, “Fuck, yeah.”

I stop counting after eight ‘fucks.’ I have a three (spoken) ‘fuck’ massage maximum. Any more than that, and I’ll out you. Like this.

“Alright, beautiful. I’m going to hold the towel up and have you roll over,” says Gordon.

I do, and Gordo exchanges one towel for a fresh, hot one. It’s a nice touch. Gordon’s hands are firm. They don’t stray to forbidden zones (though he does pull my underwear half-way down my butt as I lay face down). 

He stops in the middle of massaging my hand to examine my wedding ring. "Wow, that's a sparkler," he says.  


He ends with a head and neck massage, pauses at the end, then says, “You are beautiful. Take your time getting up.”

Beautiful, like in a Zen ‘life is beautiful way,’ right? A Buddha figure sits atop a corner desk.  Four-foot-tall Shrek and Donkey plush toys adorn another corner. Siddhartha and DreamWorks are battling for my mind. Or my body.

I quickly pull the robe back on and Gordon re-enters the room. “I want to see if I can fix that shoulder, once and for all.” He steps behind me and asks if the robe is closed at the front. It is. “Good,” he says. “You know, this job would be a hell of a lot easier if I were blind or gay.”

He kneads my shoulder, then kneels before me, his palm parallel to mine. I’m guessing he thinks he’s channeling some kind of energy. “Bingo,” he says. “Fuck, yeah.”

I change and return to the kitchen.  I compare notes with the other two guests, a mother-daughter duo. The daughter had bought the Treat Me voucher for her mum as a Mother’s Day gift. “Sorry, Mum,” she says. The Mum laughs it off. The daughter tells us, “I already know a lot about nutrition – I wish they would’ve asked about that beforehand.”

On the way home, Paula and Donna say their therapist, Donna B. had a very light touch and yanked their underwear into their butt cracks for reasons unknown. Do they teach that in massage school?

My dodgy shoulder got some relief that day (but flared up again the next). Still, I question the wisdom of spending $60 and five hours with strangers at their home in the wop-wops (boondocks). At least my friends and I have something to laugh about.

Joy to the fucking world.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Advice from a Former Chubster

                    To my Preteen Daughter
                 Advice from a Former Chubster


       
Meatballs and Pitches
                               
I’m at a networking event. A slap-on-a-nametag-and-a-smile affair, where I belly up to the hors d’oeuvres to crunch away nerves, munch because it’s dinner time and graze because maybe someone will talk to me while I guard the food.

I chew and cover my mouth while commending meatballs – “Try one; they’re really good,” or forecasting chicken skewers – “There’s a chance they’ll return…they disappeared pretty fast…” 

Suddenly, the action stops for a word from our sponsors.

The sponsors are two health-related businesses, trainers offering to help us ‘slim down and tone up.’  I finish my meatball and reach for a carrot stick. I bet you could bounce broccoli spears from these people’s abs. One trainer touts a new, exclusive-to-the-area machine designed to ‘reduce the appearance of fat.’  In fairness, both business owners talked of fitness, of reaching goals, of fostering good health and a sense of wellness. I’ll raise my glass of nonalcoholic grape juice and drink to that.

But certain industry buzzwords make me want to throw meatballs rather than eat them. I can feel my left eyebrow creeping towards my hairline when I hear “tone,” (a word too vague to mean much).  Mention, “slim down,” and my teeth clench. Say, “target your trouble spots,” and my c-section scar starts to mambo. That’s almost a workout in itself.


New Intolerance

Fitness-speak has been boxing our ears for decades, but lately, my patience for buzzwords has grown thinner than a fat-free, wheat-free, soy-and-dairy-free sandwich wrap.

I lay blame for this language intolerance at Fiona’s feet. My ten-year-old has started sprouting the odd zit –  a taunting whiteheaded precursor to adolescence. At puberty, formerly reedy girls like my daughter often sprout taffy tummies and marshmallow thighs. The development of their bodies, combined with media messages and the language adults and even their peers use sow seeds of body hyper-consciousness. So, I catch myself rehearsing scripts in my head. What do I tell my daughter about weight, size, strength and appearance?

Mom's Four Tips
  •     Hon, it’s not all about looks. Oh, sure, who doesn’t want to be told she’s beautiful? But the older I get, the more grateful I am for what my body can do. It can chase children, swing a racket, run a marathon. And if I lose those abilities, I’ll line dance, walk, and perform chair exercises with the retirement village gang. How I look won’t matter thanks to our failing eyesight.


  •     Fitness is about performance. How fast and how far can you run? How well can you kick a soccer ball to a teammate? Swing from monkey bars? Throw a basketball through a hoop? Backhand a tennis ball and enjoy a decent rally? Can you swim freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and even butterfly? Someday, when you’re older, how much can you bench press? Can you dance all night? (like my Mom). Your body allows you to perform these feats. Congratulate it. Celebrate it. Forget about fixing, toning or targeting.


  •     Plan to be active the rest of your life. This is not a sentence, but an opportunity. It’s not someone else’s program, it’s your plan. Sure, a trainer or coach can teach you the basics, provide a re-start after prolonged periods of inertia or injury, or help you prepare for an event, but those sessions are spendy. Ask yourself if your plan is sustainable. Most of my fit friends who are forty or better have found a sport they can’t live without. They’re hooked. Instead of making excuses, they make time to play.


  •     Don’t let anyone (including media) tell you how you’re supposed to look. It’s much easier to stick to a healthy weight because you love (and eat for) your sport rather than getting skinny because you hate (and starve for) your body to meet someone else's ideal. I was a hopeless dieter in my teens, not because I couldn’t see my two chins, but because I hadn’t yet found my mojo ignition switch – running.  I remember overhearing a friend of my parents, when I was 15 years old, say, “Dawn has such a pretty face. It’s too bad she’s not 15 pounds thinner.” While I was a chubby teen, I wasn’t fat enough to break furniture. Still, I ingested the critique faster than a packet of after-school Ho Hos. That first-remembered ‘fatty’ comment has stayed with me longer than my first home, first husband or firstborn… for 28 years. You are marvelous, my dear. Gorgeous to your core, regardless of its shape.


I appreciate and admire many folks who work in the fitness industry. I’ve joined gyms, have engaged in the odd session with a personal trainer and am considering pooling resources with a couple friends to hire a running coach before my next marathon. But the next time someone from the local gym calls my home, asking whether I’d like to ‘tone anything,’ I’ll tell him the only thing I want to tone are my pelvic floor muscles so I can bounce on a trampoline with my kids.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day Geisha

                      Mother’s Day Geisha

Start with Soccer

It’s noon Saturday, and we’ve just returned home from a morning of kids’ soccer.  I toast cheese sandwiches for my hungry players while Pete dozes in a front room chair. Before I scamper upstairs to write, Fiona (who’s ten) shows me a friend’s business card, asking, “How much is it for a massage, Mommy? That’s what you said you wanted for Mother’s Day.”

“No honey,” I say. I don’t want you buying it. It’s too much.”

As I climb the stairs, I see eight-year-old Finley though his bedroom window, stuffing string into a homemade Mother’s Day card.

I warned my family en route home that since tomorrow is ‘my day,’ I would pick an activity we could do together. Fiona said, “Oh no, not some kind of exercise!”

Finley said, “We don’t wanna walk anywhere.”

Pete smiled while driving the minivan and said nothing.

“I want us to ride our bikes and go for a nice walk, then have gelato,” I said.

“Oh no!” cried Finn.

“You don’t like gelato?” I asked the boy who once gobbled three servings of Italian ice cream in fifteen minutes: his, the rest of mine and nearly all his sister’s.

“I do, I do! I just don’t wanna walk.”

Keep it Simple, Stupid

This is the long way of saying I want to keep Mother’s Day simple – share it, even, with child-free family and friends. I felt my head nodding in agreement yesterday while reading author Anne Lamott’s musings about Mother’s Day:

"I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure... Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am
still opposed to Mother's Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents."
        
Of course we should honor our mothers by acknowledging them more than once each year. I am, indeed, grateful for my mom and for other women who’ve offered kitchen table wisdom, judgment-free advice and a fresh perspective.

Mother's Helpers
Spokane, WA, February, 2010

One of those women is Aunt Cheryl. Cheryl is 64 years old. She’s never birthed children, but was stepmother to two teenagers. I didn’t see a lot of Cheryl growing up. We haven’t had much contact the past few years. News about Aunt Cheryl comes mostly through her sister, my mom.

Cheryl lives in Dayton, Ohio, about four hours by car from where I grew up in Ashtabula.  When I moved to Oxford for college, Aunt Cheryl was just an hour’s drive away. I’d travel through the hamlets of Middletown, Franklin and West Carrolton, past fields of corn and soybeans, before arriving at Cheryl’s home in the suburb of Kettering. I remember feeling like a pampered niece when she treated me to restaurant lunches and showed me to her guest room with high thread count sheets and fluffy duvet. When I suffered a fever that sent me shaking under my cap and shivering beneath my graduation gown, Cheryl brought me to her home to recover.

Memories of a Ten-Year-Old Geisha

Aunt Cheryl was a critical care nurse. She also liked to draw. I remember when she stayed with us in Ashtabula and made up my sister, Heather, and I to look like geishas. I can still see my ten-year-old white face, drawn black eyebrows and painted red lips with peaked Cupid’s bow. Cheryl completed the look with a large, pointy-top bamboo hat. She took photos, later producing lifelike portraits of her nieces, smooth faces of pre-teen probity.

Glamour and Exes

Cheryl’s the Joan Collins of the family, with three ex-husbands, a large wardrobe, and enough makeup to spackle the cast of Dynasty. Her second husband, Byron, would joke that Cheryl and my mom followed a 42-step process to get ready each morning. In my early teens, I would watch, wonderstruck, as Cheryl outlined her naturally bee-stung lips with liner before filling them in with lipstick, and polishing them with gloss.

Cheryl spoke softly and slowly, a kiss of New Orleans in her voice from years of living there with her first husband in her twenties. She liked talking about energy fields and the metaphysical. She brought a copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos – the eighties epic about the origins of the universe – when she visited in Ashtabula.

Spanning the Globe

Cheryl's Christmas and birthday gifts were legendary, procured from trips across the country or around the world from Italy, France and England. She gave me a wooden nutcracker about the same height as Finley one year; the following year, she sent a nativity set requiring a five-foot long table for display.

Mom and I met Cheryl in Thaxted, England, in 1999, for her third wedding. The ceremony took place in a 14th century stone church. We buzzed with excitement during the reception, when we were greeted with a vintage airplane flyover.

Family Tree
Spokane, WA, February, 2010

In the last decade, Cheryl developed a passion bordering on obsession for geneology, spending hours researching every branch, stem and leaf on our family tree. She could talk about dead relatives until you started wishing you could join them yourself.

Like my mom, Cheryl developed breast cancer around age 55. Unlike Mom, Cheryl did not get regular mammograms Her lump went undetected until it had grown to two centimeters. Doctors later found cancer in her shoulder and said she was Stage Four. The malignancy was incurable. But Cheryl could still be treated and continue to live.

And live she did, ditching husband number three, ballroom dancing and finding love again.
50+ Dancesport Challenge, Columbus, Ohio, February, 2012

Critical

Then, last November, I got an e-mail from Mom. Cheryl was in the ICU. The cancer had invaded her brain.  She left the hospital. I lost track of her, spinning in a cyclone of engagement, wedding preparations and parenting. A couple days ago, after another message from Mom, I called to learn what was happening. Cheryl returned to hospital. Then hospice. And now, according to the boyfriend, doctors say she has just hours or days to live.

This is where my own guilt about the fact I haven’t seen Cheryl since Sean’s memorial in 2010 sneaks in like a cat through an open window. I’m sad my aunt is (according to Mom) drowsing in a drugged state, unable to reminiscence or talk much at all. I’m sad I’m eight thousand miles from Dayton, Ohio. Shame about my lack of contact, things left undone and unsaid rests on my shoulders as useless and uncool as a pair of 80’s shoulder pads. That’s what Death does, even if He hasn’t yet arrived. His twin, Guilt, starts buzzing in your ears like a housefly evading capture.
Me, Mom, Cheryl - Davenport Hotel, Spokane, February, 2010


Big Hearts 

But this isn’t about me. It’s about Cheryl. And all the other aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends whose hearts are big enough to care take someone else’s kid.

My Mother’s Day wish isn’t for flowers, chocolates or a restaurant meal, though I like all three. What I want is to drag my husband and two small fries to the top of the Mount. And eat gelato afterward.

And I want to think about my mom and Aunt Cheryl, and all the other men and women who’ve added flavor, love and a sprinkle of glamour to my life. The ten-year-old geisha in me will never forget.





Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Year of the Ratbag

                  Year of the Ratbag

2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse. But in our house, it feels more like the Year of the Ratbag. ‘Ratbag’ is Kiwi slang for mischievous child. The first time I recall hearing that term was in church, when our priest referred to kids (possibly his) as ‘ratbags.’ It sounded slanderous, but the longer I’ve lived in New Zealand, the more normal ‘ratbags’ seems – kind of like calling children ‘rugrats,’ in the States.

My eight-year-old son, Finley (or Finn-bo, or Finn, or whatever we're calling him these days), is the epitome of ratbag. With his number four clippered hair (courtesy of my husband, his stepdad, Pete), and a gap-toothed grin, he oozes ratbag sensibility. Or lack of sensibility. He’s still not a great sport – trying to make up rules to games that favor him: Finn swiped Pete in the face while they were playing handball in the driveway after Pete told Finley he’d lost the point. Finn cried. Ratbag.

Finley asked for another roll at dinner the other night (‘with lots of butter, please!’) after everyone else had finished eating. He slowly savored his bread while the rest of us cleaned up. Ratbag. He searched frantically the next morning for a ball to bring to school when he should’ve been doing something meaningful, like brush his teeth, or (for once) put on underwear. The kid is Constant Commando. Ratbag.

Finn loves parading naked in his wiry little bod. A couple weeks ago, just after he’d had a shower, I sat on Finley’s bed while he searched for pajamas. Suddenly, Finn turned and started a tiny hip buck that sent his Little Man flip-flopping like a trout in a bucket. “Zumba, Zumba, Zumba…” he sang. Resistance was futile. “Finley,” I laughed. “Get dressed.” “Zumba, Zumba, Zumba,” he replied.

I’m mindful that someday, both kids will leave us and start new lives with loves of their own. Finley has already started planning. “I want to have kids,” he’s told me. “Two or maybe four. How does that happen again?” I repeat what I’ve already explained several times, about the penis and the vagina, sperm and egg… Instead of snickering, Finley looks at me earnestly, asking, “How many times do I hafta put it in? Once? Twice? I wanna make sure I get kids….”

Oh, Ratbag.

Maybe Finn will woo his future bride by singing. Only recently have we started noticing Finley’s strong set of lungs is good for something other than yelling. His favorite song is a version of The Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams, which he belts with vibrato:

                These people are made a’ me…
                Made a’ me to disagree…

He asked me what the real words were, and when I sang them, he said, “I don’t get it. Why do they want to be abused?”

For many years, I wondered what atrocity I’d committed to deserve a Ratbag like Finley. He’d whine and cry, trying to convince me to buy him something, or give him another cookie, or whatever… He’d fight Fiona and snicker when I called him on it. He still does that stuff. But the incidents are either dwindling in number or duration, or I’m more tolerant because I have a supportive husband, or because Finley’s honing his charms. All of those. Finn bats his long fringe of eyelashes, blinks those baby blues like a character in a Pixar movie with saucer-sized eyes. I stare at them. At his freckled nose. You charmer. Now, go clean your room.

More and more, I marvel at his Finn-ness. Finn-bo's a smart cookie who learns quickly - when he wants to. I’m jealous. I was never an eight-year-old boy with oceans of confidence (“Why do I need to keep going to tennis club, anyway? I’m already good at playing,” Finley said when I asked him if he wanted to continue one of his many sports). Finn stood up on a surfboard the first time he tried; he made it onto a competitive soccer team this year; he’s starting to play simple songs on guitar after just a few lessons; he works above national standards in reading, writing and math. Excels at art. Ratbag.

While he’s probably not tops in his class, the best player on the soccer field or the first to cross the line in a race, he’s near the front of the pack. Finn-bo’s competitive streak has him running, red-faced, trying to top the other kids. Or me. On the beach, Finley says, “Let’s race.” We do, and the kid beats me in a short sprint. “I wasted you, Mom,” he says.

Ratbag.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Sidetracked

[I wrote this as a toast to Pete on our wedding day. St. Patrick's Day is the anniversary of when we met in 2011]

                                    Sidetracked


Thomas Merton’s famous prayer begins with, ‘My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.’

Husband – I did not see this coming.

When I left Spokane on holiday to drag the kids around the world and live six months in New Zealand, I was sure this place was a happy diversion.

Then, I got Sidetracked. At the cafe called Sidetrack, where I met a handsome, smiley guy in a red surfy t-shirt with thick brown hair who asked good questions and gave good conversation.

Listening is sexy.

So are sand dunes, walks around the Mount, pouring rain, text messages and a first getaway in the Coromandel.

I knew you were special when you and Finley played at being warriors with monkey tails the first time you met. When Fiona climbed into your lap.

I loved you way back at La Barca, though all I could say at the time was, ‘I really, really LIKE you.’

I was hooked. Decided to stay here a little longer. Sidetracked – again.

Life is what happens when you say, ‘I’ll never apply for another visa,’ ‘I’m not staying,’ and ‘I could never marry another mortal because mortals invite disaster.’

Love and laughter, coffees and walks, dinners and movies, chemistry and attraction… conspired to sidetrack me. I zigged when I thought I would zag.  Flew South when I could’ve stayed North.  

We’re here today because we’re more than diversion or whim. Though our location, vocation, health or fortunes may change, what remains is love – the love we share for each other, for Fiona and Finley and for this new thing we’ve created called our family.  The glue that binds us is commitment called marriage.

When I arrived in New Zealand three years ago, I didn’t have this community, these friends or your love. But then, I got Sidetracked – and for that, I’m happy, because I want to walk and dance and zig and zag and roam the world – with you.

Here’s to getting sidetracked, here’s to those who’ve aided and abetted our adventure – to our friends, family – especially Pete’s mum and stepdad, for your influence on this fine human, my husband.  To Dad and Kathe for traveling from the States – and to all of you for helping us along the way.

We are no one without our families, and we are nowhere without our friends. Cheers to you.



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wedding Day, Part Two - I do

                      Wedding Day – Part Two 

                              I do         

                     
Guests start arriving at the beach house around 9:45. My friends have spirited me upstairs to wait until 10:00, when the ceremony is due to start. Any notion we might still host an outdoor wedding has been blown away like a trampoline in a hurricane – rain and wind batter our friends as they plod muddy grass to reach the side door.
I asked Fiona to wrap ribbon around the staircase, which is the only place for a bridal entrance. I hope to avoid tripping over my large bridal feet and tumble, end over end, like a white chiffon slinky, on the wooden stairs.  Jac snaps pictures of the kids and I together – Fiona in her spiral curls and bright pink taffeta dress, Finley in spiked hair and tuxedo. The kids and Pete have chosen to wear canvas sneakers.

Someone tells us the crowd is ready. Josh, our 22-year-old musician, strums the first notes on his guitar. I’d looked through his playlist of dozens of songs and chosen Louis Armstrong’s, “Wonderful World” as our prelude. Fiona starts down the stairs with a gift bag full of rose petals. I powder my nose one more time, pick up my bouquet of flowers consisting of pink roses called ‘Bonjour,’ white roses called ‘Avalanche,’ purple hydrangea, white Snowberries, pink Alstroemeria, plus green grass and ferns.  I start very carefully, very slowly, down the stairs.

Nearly 60 of our family and friends are sardined into the living room. I focus on not tripping over the long dress which my dad has helped zip me into. At the bottom of the stairs, I look up to see Pete. I’m stunned and overcome. I told myself I would not cry and I’m good at not crying, having held back tears at Sean’s memorial. Almost exactly four years ago, I had steeled myself against crying. 

Today, I’ve forgotten my shield. Defenseless. Seeing my handsome groom in his black suit, lilac shirt and shiny gray tie makes me feel like I did during the lake swim of my first and only sprint triathlon: surprised by breathlessness and nerves, struggling to inhale and exhale in rhythm. I’m going to marry this man. It’s happening.


I gasp. Start crying. Shit. I’m stuffed. What about my makeup?

Even Pete has tears in his eyes. My stoic Scotsman. Until this moment, I’d suspected he was an alien without tear ducts. Later, on our honeymoon, during dinner at the Thai restaurant overlooking Ohiwa Harbour, Pete tells me, “I had, ‘What a Wonderful World,’ on a mix tape my father made of all his favorite songs. I used to play it over and over after he died, but then, it got lost.” I hadn’t known that when I chose the song.

The music stops, and Richard, the vicar (who’s also my boss at the Anglican church), starts: “We have come together in the presence of all who have gathered… “  I clutch my bouquet in one hand and Pete’s arm in the other, trying to sniff without snorting. From the front row, my friend, Andrea (one of the first people I met in New Zealand), reaches into her bag and pulls out a tissue. I pass Pete my flowers so I can dab my eyes and maybe blow my nose. 

My friend, Donna, reads from Robert Fulgham’s ‘Union’


            …Look at one another and remember this moment in time.
            Before this moment you have been many things to one                     another-
           acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner,                and even teacher…

Paula reads the ‘love’ passage from 1st Corinthians (“Love is kind and patient…”). My friends. These same women spent hours decorating the reception hall last night after returning from a 22-mile marathon training run. I am so thankful for my friends.


I lean into Pete and smile. He smiles back. He’s the first to read his vows. After a month of procrastinating, he wrote them within an hour. They’re beautiful. And funny.


            
             Dawn, I love and adore you with all my heart.
              You make me feel like the only guy in the room
              and to me you are the only girl in the room.
             You have brought light and love into my life and given me
             a family of my own...


             I promise to give you space when you need it and support
            when you need it.
            To respect your beliefs and opinions and listen when your
            heart speaks to me (even when there's a good action movie
            on TV...

            I love you, and today I'm proud to call you my partna,
           my Dawn, my wife, your Petey!

I stop sniffing to read my vows to Pete. I’d revised them four or five times, with a final edit and critique from my friend, Lee. I nearly included something about Sean giving me courage and strength to love again. Lee was on target (as always) when she told me in an e-mail what I already knew – this ceremony was about me and Pete, and our friends and families understood our history.


I look up from the program Richard has tucked into a folder to gaze at my groom. 

Pete, I love you. With you, I can just be me. Your good looks           caught my eye;
your listening skills flattered my ego; your conversation                 captured my heart.
You’re kind, generous, smart and funny. For this, I can                   forgive your addiction to action movies...

I pause because our friends and family are laughing.  I don’t let my eyes linger long, because some of them are also teary, and wedding tears are infectious.

I finish without blubbering. Pete quips, “20 years of broadcast experience really shows…It’s like getting in the ring with Tyson.” The group laughs. Richard asks if we have the rings. Rings. Finley, our ring bearer, has been showering rose petals on our guests (with help from Fiona) from the second floor loft. We send Finley for the rings, which he’s left in a bedroom. He emerges, following an eternal pause, with a small black box. I wriggle a nearly too-small silver band onto Pete’s hand – the first wedding ring he’s ever worn. He, in turn, slides a white gold band onto my finger – the second wedding ring I’ve ever worn.


Richard pronounces us husband and wife:

Dawn and Pete you have declared the love you have for each other and your hopes for
the future. You have made promises to each other, and have symbolized them by the
joining of hands and giving of rings. You are now husband and wife.

We kiss. Maybe one more for my handsome groom…

Richard ends with:

            We call upon the moon and the stars and the sun, who                     govern the rhythms and seasons of our lives and remind us             that we are part of a great and wondrous
            universe, and we ask them to bless this marriage…

The ceremony itself was only about 15 minutes long.  And yet, we’d concentrated more than two years of loving each other into the space of 900 seconds (give or take a few). Hundreds of seconds of intensity, emotion and a love as big as the swelling sea outside the house. It’s as if we’d pressed the pause button on my GPS watch during a run. We’ve stopped the clock to stand together, look at each other, to honor the love we share.

After the planning, arranging, calling, organizing, seating charts, food orders, dress alterations, hair sessions, a combined bachelor/bachelorette party, what was most touching, tender and real about this wedding was the ceremony.

I hear champagne corks pop and smell warm sausage rolls. Servers have laid large trays of savories, salmon, carrots, hummus, baguette, pear, grapes and brie on the wooden table in the kitchen area. 

This is where Pete and I, plus witnesses Lee and Elton, sign our marriage certificate.  Our scribbles on paper show we’re married not only in the eyes of the church, but also in the eyes of government.


Josh plays Jack Johnson’s “Better Together” on guitar while we nibble and mingle. Jac grabs Pete and me for more pictures. This time, we’ll brave the drizzle to take photos on the boardwalk overlooking the beach. So much for the hair. So much for the beach wedding. Crikey, my one shot as a beach bride, and I’ve blown it. At least I have purple canvas sneakers in which to shuffle through wet grass and blowing sand.

We stay at the house until around one o’clock, when we drive up the street to the reception hall. Donna and Paula’s efforts have transformed the place: the tables are decorated with ivy (collected from another Jogger friend’s garden), sea shells, pussy willows, candles, sand and white hydrangeas.


The lamb, for which we rented a barbeque large enough to roast a wildebeast, is tender and delicious. We have more than enough meat, salads, beer and wine… more than enough wedding cake (a gift from my friend, Lee), more than enough chocolate chili raspberry gelato (a gift from our friend Matthias and Bettina)… more than enough. 


What we don’t have in infinite quantity is time: Our musician must leave at three o’clock.


I’d asked the Joggers’ Running Captain, Jackie, to emcee. She leads us gracefully from the meal, to awards (we presented faux trophy cups to couples who’d been married the longest and shortest amounts of time), to toasts. Jackie had coached Fiona and Finley to stand together and speak into the microphone, saying, “Cheers to Dawn and Petey.”


My Dad, who’d arrived three weeks earlier with his wife, Kathe, stood and said, “After Sean died, Dawn took the kids on a trip around the world. We met her in Paris; then, she travelled Europe,  South Africa, Australia and finally New Zealand. When she told me she’d met someone and wanted to live here, I said, ‘Why do you want to live so far away?’ But when I met Pete, I knew – this is where she needed to come to meet exactly the right person for her…’”


I want to cry with gratitude, love, relief. He gets it.

Another Mount Jogger friend, Mary, stands with nine other women from my running group. Mary gives a short speech revealing two not-so-secrets about me she and others have gleaned from girls’ weekends away: I don’t sleep well and I eat a lot. I pause from my plate full of lamb and salad to look up and laugh. Mary says, “Dawn, we’re glad you’re here with us in all your American-ness. Please don’t ever lose that quality.”

I toast my husband, starting with the Thomas Merton quote I'd found at two that morning, "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me."

The rest of the reception is a kaleidoscope of smiles, music and laughter. The weather outside grows increasingly warm and humid, making my hair droop.  I sit next to Pete’s wee Scottish mum at the head table, who says, “It’s about time” her 47-year-old son got married.


My groom and I dance to the song I recall hearing consistently when we first met: Lionel Richie’s, “Easy.” We pull in parents and kids for the next song. One moment I’m swaying with Dad, and the next, I’m clasping Finley’s hands, bouncing up and down. Not many people dance, since it’s the middle of the day, but I can always count on my running friends to shake a leg or two.

It’s five o’clock by the time we’re helping our servers clean up. There’s no grand exit in a fancy car – just last minute instructions to our hired help and requests to a few friends to please return our rented items (champagne flutes, BBQ…) to the party store.  It’s not the almost-fairy tale wedding of my twenties, with fancy hall, five-piece band, catered banquet… It’s down-home, DIY, Kiwi-style. Still gorgeous in its own way. And I’m just as married today, at 43, as I was back then, at 29.